It wasn’t oil that killed Louisiana oysters following the Deepwater Horizon blowout.
The horrendous, months-long spill that erupted nearly a year ago spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Calculating the damage will be a long and ongoing process. Among the species of marine life damaged in the disaster were the oysters of the Louisiana coast. But in the vast majority of cases, it wasn’t oil that killed the oysters.
It was water.
Fresh water, poured into the coastal estuaries to keep the oil offshore, killed millions of oysters. As reported by Maddie Garrett, writing for KATC-TV, the fresh water diversions from the Mississippi River did keep the oil out of the oyster beds, but at a price. The diversions changed the salinity of the water, destroying thousands of oyster beds. About 50 percent of Louisiana’s oyster beds were killed due to the fresh water diversions. To survive, oysters require a delicate balance of salt water and fresh water. The fresh water brought in to keep the oil from reaching the coast put that balance out of whack.
Most of the oysters were never even touched by the oil, says Mike Voisin. He’s a 7th generation oysterman and owner of Motivatit Oysters in Houma, La., who was interviewed by Garrett. Voisin believes the 60,000 pounds of oysters his company processes today are now safe to eat. Any traces of contaminants found in testing have been a hundred to a thousand times below any level of concern, says Voisin.
Are seafood fans ready to eat oysters again?
Unfortunately, Voisin is far less certain about whether consumers are confident enough to start eating oysters again. He expects to feel the pain of lost revenue from people’s squeamishness over post-spill food safety for some time yet. But, he told Garrett, “We will stand up and run again.” That’s the optimism of the oysterman.
Before the spill, Louisiana produced about 40 percent of America’s domestic oyster supply. Barring another disaster, oyster beds should be replenished in just a few years. But how long it will take for the average American seafood lover to start swallowing plates of Gulf oysters again is anybody’s guess. People have to first swallow the story being told by the testing agencies, the government, and the seafood industry. Many don’t seem ready to do that yet.